Friday, October 29, 2010

Sounds of Gratitude

As I woke this morning I could hear the sound of a train in a distance; softly below this drone I heard my wife's gentle breathing. Her breath especially poignant today since yesterday my favorite resident at work and then later a dear friend both drew their final breaths. For this moment her journey remains tied to mine on this earth, to dream another dream, to serve another day.

Later in the day amidst the clatter of my staff at work, I paused. Grateful for the quality of the work they perform and the grace in which they undertake their duties. I glimpse the lives we touch and brighten during difficult transitional times. Their voices gentle and kind, their hearts full of service.

I listen to the sound of delight from a man grateful that his request was remembered. The whisper of hope as encouragement is offered to a suffering woman. Even the habitual "thank you's" of our professional day give voice to the value our cultures place on expressing gratitude. Suddenly I am grateful that I can still hear, still give voice to my thoughts and feelings, still pause and take note.

During my lunch the tinkle of my fork against my plate draws attention to the sounds of our kitchen at rest. Enjoying the rare relative quiet as only the low hum of the various compressors fans rise & fall as the kitchen breaths. grateful for the relief from the usual sonic assault that accompanies my day. I hear my teeth at work with chewing a broccoli cheese casserole, the taste of thyme slowing me to enjoy this  precious moment.

"California Dreaming" wafts into my listening field and associative memory transports me to 1969 and an auto accident in my brother's black GTO. Why do I remember that this was playing on his car radio when we were struck? Another memory jolt to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" playing in my fathers car in 1981 as my mother bursts into tears. They were taking me to the airport as I was moving to Colorado. Smiling with gratitude that my brain still makes these connections.

Leaving work as I hear my footfalls on the stairwell, gratitude stirs that I still walk. Around me wheelchairs and walkers focus my attention to this activity frequently taken for granted. Soon I hear the grateful cheers of neighborhood children saying "daddy's home," their joy being echoed by a yelping dog. The sizzle of dinner on the stove joins the chorus of my wife welcoming me home. Such simple acts amplified to sacred depths when I pay attention.

I end my day with the sounds of joy. A young woman expressing gratitude for living fully against the odds. Grateful friends surrounding and expressing their support, this very act supporting  their path. I am grateful that these same people are my friends.

I suspect I missed other sounds of gratitude on this day. But when I did listen, I came into the present moment. In doing this I became aware of my body, my thinking, my feelings, &  memories; I became alive. For Life is lived in the present moment.

Will I be grateful if I wake tomorrow? Will I notice another's breath? Will I be listening?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voice Leading

music notes

At the end of our Qi Gong session this morning I selected "Listen" as the word for today. Influenced by RF's Diary which I read prior to my Qi Gong today. Part of his post he described his practice of listening to himself while speaking. I have heard him describe this practice before and it is also one of the mindfulness trainings in Thich Nhat Hahn's tradition. While I take it on for a brief time this is not an ongoing practice of mine. My wife has mentioned the 'tone' of my voice as recently as last evening and at least one other time in the past days. If there is one person that I always want to sound beautifully to she is the one. Yet frequently I speak automatically, unaware of what I am saying; historical, familial and cultural patterns asserting themselves.

When I see or feel that one is distressed I listen deeply. Then from this place I tend to speak mindfully. But an ongoing practice of mindful speech eludes me. I tune my guitar before inviting her voice to sound, why not tune my own voice?

Various tuning practices that I have are a simple breath or three taken with awareness, sensing a part of my body, or by practicing the Alexander Technique. These compositional devices inform this musician, offering me a choice in my vocal melodies. These practices are a part of my everyday life but  am I capable of maintaining them throughout a day? Focusing them just as I finely tune my instrument? Impossible? For me certainly, but with the intention to begin a practice the possible embraces the impossible. With practice the possible is realized and moves forward. By constructing  this exercise in 'voice leading,' I can practice the discipline of my being aware of when I am speaking, Then I may choose my tone, dynamics, and the 'feel' of the spoken lines I offer to the world.

As my exercise in 'voice leading' unfolds, the other musicians that I am improvising with might respond harmoniously. And when the dissonant chord is sounded, the skills of a musician tuned through practice may take the verse to a new and beautiful chorus. And at the times when the cacophony arises with the vocal music turning dark, may we find rest in the measure of our being and begin tuning again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alive Again - With Gratitude

A beautiful fall morning with an afternoon performance today. Feeling good about the process today. I suspect that our work with live recording will enhance my future studio work. Certainly my abilities as a performer have been stretched and deepened. And my relationships with friends and family also deepened as a result of this series.

I just completed writing my performance notes for myself. During the performance of one piece in particular today - Stepping Stones -  I sensed the presence of a few men who have been very important in my life. Ed Maynard, Jim Landy, Harry Carmen, Ed Battisfore, Leo Conner, and William Dixon, Jr. created a love song greater than any I could write. These were caring men, harmonized to help others and unselfish in their giving. I had dedicated these performances to them. This is just a small thanks to the life that they have shown me.

Today's performance had some special challenges. The early time made it difficult for me to recover from last night. Members of my beloved family were coming and  I know I have their support, yet I also care a little bit more about what they think. So an added pressure to want to play well. They are also the inspiration behind Kinnara, Lost Ballon, & Gathered Hearts. My performance of many of the pieces today were spirited and overall I fell good about the performance. No doubt the continued performing over four nights had much to do with my confidence and coming to a greater understanding of the music.

Just as the leaves change in fall, so do I. This burst of color that came from my guitar this weekend will continue to change and grow in mysterious ways. May music continue to whisper in our lives. And may we all be blessed with wonderful support in our creative endeavors as I experienced this series. A very special thank you to the best wife for me - Joann Malone, my ever delightful granddaughter Annelise, and to the most amazing producer/engineer Tony Geballe

Photo by Renate Leisten

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Blossoms in Cloud

Part of my investigation of performance this year has been the exercise of choice. I moved from sitting to standing for instance. Now due to increasing pain due to varicose veins I have returned to sitting while playing. When I did it was with a different quality though. Now sitting while playing is an option, not just the only way I can perform. A major part of my AT work has been focused on having a choice in how I use my body. What can I do to be aware of my habitual use of the self?

I prefer being quiet during a performance. Initially this was a way to hide behind the terror of addressing an audience in words. I was suffering enough to just be able to show up with a guitar and play. If I opened my mouth they would hear my nervousness. Fool me to not know that they could already observe my fear and suffering. Through much work the fear of playing for others has been removed. Slight manifestations still assert themselves, but for the most part I am comfortable playing.

I'll never be one for audience banter, I do not believe it serves the music that I play. Yet their is this expectation or need or tradition that many people want communication from the performer other than the music. So I am looking for ways to exercise having a choice in addressing the audience. Where does it deter the flow of music; where might it serve the performance event. Might the event be about more that the music, a celebration or a memorial. As with all things in life, the quality of how the communication is transmitted is what matters.

I wrote these words in the afternoon. Now it is 11pm and Alive Again Day 3 is coming to a close. A great audience tonight as well as last night. Truly I am blessed. My playing felt better tonight, more confident. The audience was spirited and wanted more. We all enjoyed the improvisation with the bells. Progress not perfection.

Morning Thoughts

DSC21810, Byodoin Temple, Uji City, Japan

Alive Again Day 3 - Morning Preparation

From where do I come? What has shaped my core? What drives me to make music?

Beginning my day with some AT work and then at the computer writing just a bit. Another performance tonight. How can I learn from and build on last night? A distraction of the wonderful kind will join us today and I would not have it any other way. How to fold time with my delightful 10 year old grand daughter into my preparation? She has inspired several pieces of music and two of them will be performed tonight. So I am remiss to even consider this a distraction, rather than an encounter with the creative. What if I viewed every person in this way? The melodies and harmonies flowing from my instrument would astound me.

Looking at these words I realize an answer to my three questions - Love. Having just completed my morning practice this answer still resonates.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Alive Again Day Two

Connected version 2
Awake at 7am after a good nights rest. Body feels good as I spend time with the AT directions. Another performance tonight, yet a full day ahead of me. How to use this day constructively yet maintain my energy for tonight. Fortunately I have experiences from within Guitar Craft to guide me in this area. So onto the beginning of my day.

A good morning with Qi Gong, sitting, breakfast, and then later time with people who mean the world to me. A great reminder of how much I have to be grateful for, of how much support I have, and of how much is possible for anyone. The word for today when we ended our Qi Gong session was "Connect." The rightness of this resounded on several occasions during my afternoon.

Needed a nap but this did not occur. Life goes on it was time to  warm up and sound check. Dressed and in the green room I made a decision to tell a story to the audience. A love story basically that underlies why I am calling this four night series Alive Again. For tonight this needed to be said, tomorrow we'll see. Continuing to find what is right for me in the performance setting.

Internal and external distractions affected my playing. What can I learn from them?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alive Again Day One


10:15 am
Preparing the space - both within and the outer. The calm attentive approach to any task I perform today will support how I perform music this evening. I found it so nourishing to do Qi Gong with no regard to what time it was and then to enjoy our sitting. So wonderful to have breakfast with my wife on a sunny crisp fall morning while there are still enough song birds to greet the day.

I went to pick Tony up at 1pm in downtown DC but his arrival was delayed until 2pm. I took the opportunity to explore the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  I enjoyed many of the folk art pieces and a beautiful watercolor by Sam Gilliam. The layout of this  museum maximized the amount of objects and paintings exhibited but I was always right on top of everything. Found my attention distracted on several occasions by other patrons, but this also gave me the opportunity to redirect it.

We picked up soup and enjoyed this at home with Joann. Tony began setting up mics and cables while I changed strings. We sound checked at 6pm. At 6:50 I changed into my performance attire. We began at 7:30 pm. My playing felt relaxed and there were some fun moments. Did a good job of keeping what is important to me alive while I was playing.

The set list was:

Dancin' Free
Livin' the Dream
Here We Are
Matka Boska
Scattered Hearts
Stepping Stones
Gathered Hearts
Beneath Dark Images
Lost Balloon
Dandelion Wish

A light meal afterward followed by a few practicalities around the house. Day Two is tomorrow so I'm off to rest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The End of this Process

Light at the End of the Torii

I was pretty well drained after work yesterday. The emotions of my visit with my friend described in the last post, coupled with the demands of another day at work had me wanting and needing an evening off. I did let go of my AT class but knew I had to practice. Tomorrow night I begin the first of four live recording gigs with Tony so I could not afford to let go of my practice. How to generate energy and enthusiasm when I just wanted to go to bed at 7:30pm?

I also recognized that I was at a familiar place energy wise that arises at the end of a process. After having worked hard for a sustained period of time and with the end is close at hand is a hazardous place for me. To be inattentive or just let go now jeopardizes all that has been applied and generated. I am committed to my music making; disciplined in my approach; and as a friend recently pointed out - devoted might be the better term. But I just had no physical nor emotional energy, or at least I thought. The mind - the place where all my problems begin. What to do? I decided on a few small areas of three pieces I could work on. Then I  pulled myself out my large black reclining chair, hesitantly letting down the leg rest, and reluctantly went down to the basement.

Slowly I worked on just the first few notes of the arpeggio that begins Dancin' Free. Adding a few notes at a time I worked through the opening section. This slow considered work connected me to the guitar and to my previous practice sessions. My attention engaged, I began to forget my tiredness.  I was just slowly, carefully playing the notes. Before I knew it I wanted to practice. And practice I did, my process staying on track. I visited several problem sections and felt my energy rise. Played through a few other pieces and completed my practice.

Tonight I began again with these problem sections which are much improved and then played through the set. Tomorrow the process of recording begins. Time to exercise care with the beginning of this new process, after a good nights sleep. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Unexpected Music Lesson

Chain Bridge - Stádlec_1

There is a bowl gong from India that I have that was given to me by a dear friend years ago. I've never liked the tone of this particular gong but kept this present as a reminder of my friend. Tonight I saw him, perhaps for the final time as he is making his peace with a terminal illness. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, and I did not want to leave him.

 I came home and thought of his poor mother. She is loosing her son, a great son. I can not fathom the depths of her pain. I improvised a bit, looking to settle in with my guitar. I attempted Gathered Hearts with the wish to send this piece to him and his wife, but my emotions were in the way of my playing. Then I thought of his mother again and played Matka Boska for her, his wonderful blessed mother. Still my playing was sloppy but my heart was there. At the end I found two chords and followed where they led. Perhaps a piece for my friend, or perhaps a way to channel my emotions and play my guitar. Time will tell on this, provided life allows me another day to play.

After I put away my guitar I saw the bowl gong on the shelf and took it in my hand. I invited this gong to sound once and then on the second invitation I heard the beauty of this instrument. The shape is different from the other bowl gongs I have known and my past efforts to sound this one did not take the difference into account. Enchanted by the beauty that has been in my basement for years, patiently waiting for me to find her tone. Mesmerized I played with this gong, hearing her voice for the first time. Wondering how many times in my life do I take the same approach to a person that has worked with similar persons in the past. When what I need is to be present to their unique qualities and subtle differences to allow them to flourish.

What a music lesson, the music of life, this visit has been.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Practicing Silence

Soon I'll be increasingly quiet for a couple days. Some might say silent, but practicing silence is a better description. As the silence settles in about me, my body will relax, my thinking slow, my heart soften and maybe even open. The practice of silence has taken on more importance for me over the years. An opportunity to let go of my habitual manner of living and perhaps receive an insight to guide me. Sometimes I have let go of long held attitudes or emotions that were clouding my vision. Always the practice strengthens and nourishes me to continue practicing.

As the silence approaches, I listen. What am I doing or thinking in this moment that deafens the silence? Just as I listen when tuning a string, I can hear the "beats" as the two strings approach unison. Taking care to bring the two tones to a full bodied unison resonance. What are the "beats" in my mind as I approach silence? The breath tunes the mind while silence supports the tuning.

What does silence have to do with playing guitar? Everything ...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Study Music?

  The practice of music allows me to better
          listen to the cries of another's soul.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Slipping in an Opportunity

I woke early today. Out of bed at 5am, dark with the insects humming outside. I did Qi Gong and sitting. A bowl of granola and decided to slip in some guitar practice before work. Both my body and mind were quiet as I slipped my guitar over my shoulder. Releasing and lengthening, I wanted to maintain awareness of my body in the seated position while playing. Keeping the Alexander Technique directions alive in my mind.

I decided to work on two passages, one from Lost Ballon and one from Dandelion Wish. I began with Lost Balloon and noticed almost immediately how refreshing practicing in this rested state was compared to at the end of my day. Playing with no sense of urgency, exploring my body in motion, and enjoying the process. I moved onto Dandelion Wish and again noted how nice it was to feel the whole day ahead of me. Expansive seems to describe the mode. I am happy to have seized this opportunity and to have disrupted my habit of getting ready for work and moving on.

And now to my regularly scheduled responsibilities.

9:50 am EDT

Interesting to note at 9am and again now 45 minutes later, how much the ease generated by this mornings AT work has stayed with me. Even after two pieces of information that have introduced upheaval and challenge into an already busy day. This sense of expansiveness in my day is being maintained. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

When Do I Begin to Listen?

Musicians listen deeply.  Any note can be invited to sound in a myriad of waves. Play a  note ponticello and you invite your listener to a different place then the same note played tasto; pianissimo offering a different state than forte. When my listening is attentive the quality of my playing changes. So when does a musician begin to listen during a practice session?

I asked myself this question as I approached my guitar this evening.  Then I heard the sound of the clasps that secure the case as I opened them. I listened as my strap slid over the strap buttons. I noticed the strap brushing against the fabric of my shirt as I brought my guitar to my body. I reveled in the beauty of the bringing my C string into tune. The bright attack as I secured the cable in the jack. The snap of the switch on the amp and the subsequent slight hum. I heard my body settle into my stool.

And then I noticed that already my mind had begun to quiet from the distraction of my day. I heard my nails touching the strings as I began playing Dancin' Free. A short but active run through of Dancin' Free, Kinnara, & Stepping Stones ensued. I wanted more but had to honor an obligation this evening. I was able to collect the joy generated from this brief session and take it with me. We got into the car, I heard the engine roar, and then I was lost.

When will I begin to listen again? Will it be with my beloved guitar or with a person? Suddenly I hear myself say "don't criticize" as a man begins to share his voice. That one thought the coda to my day. Here I was - Alive again. I was improvising my response to the theme that was actually stated, harmonizing in a new direction, rather than falling back on my habitual historical rendering of old melodies that did not fit this music. Yes musician listen deeply; listen to the sounds of life.  Allow your listening to be in service to the muse. Regardless of the instrumentation, the style, or the ensemble be present to the music that is being played. Be it the sound of  a string or of a string of thoughts, I know I will get lost again. So when do I begin to listen?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Fate of Strings

Old Portuguese Tiles : O Fado

Today the strings will be changed. Fieldwork DC begins this afternoon and I will be participating, that means playing, and to do that I must have new strings on my Godin. The Field process has been very useful for me over the years. In fact, one of the reasons I now play solo came as a result of a Fieldwork session. After FingerPaint faded, I continued to dabble in electronic music, primarily using long digital delays. This involved a lot of equipment and it was too much work to tear down, reset, play for a short time at the workshop, tear down, and reset at home each week. So I would present my work using a CD. I was prepared to take another session of the Field when I found myself wanting to perform something live, instead of popping a CD in a portable player. Eight days before the beginning of the session I picked up my Ovation and was horrified at the state of my playing. A tremolo piece, Aftermath, emerged; and I was born as a solo guitarist. Eventually I let go of the plectrum and returned to fingerstyle.

But about those strings, they still not changed. One of the pieces I will show at The Field today is Beneath Dark Images, which I have not played for anyone other than my wife. I decided to play through it a couple of times before changing the strings and allow the piece to simmer in my brain. I became aware of my body using the Alexander Technique directions. Then I decided to begin by working with inhibition on a particular transition in Livin' the Dream. While the problem in this particular transition appears to be in my left hand, I noticed via the use of inhibition that I was tightening my right elbow in anticipation. This introduction of unnecessary tension and shortening has a direct result on my left hand fingerings.

I worked with this for twenty minutes and then moved onto Beneath Dark Images. The quality in my hands that was already present from the previous work informed my playing through of this piece. I addressed two transitions that are problematic and decided to capture this process for the blog.

Yet those strings remain to be changed and change them I now will. Then there is the debris to pick up in the yard. How can I incorporate the yard work into my practice?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Transitioning to Performance Mode


A lot of my practice has centered around new material lately. But now the dates for Alive 2 or perhaps Alive Again are quickly approaching. I had a great phone conversation with Tony Geballe this morning regarding strategies and practicalities for this live recording session. Building on what was learned and assimilated in July we are now moving forward. Tony is such a great person to work with; I am truly blessed.

Checking the stats on this blog this afternoon I was pleasantly surprised that there were 50 hits in one hour this morning. I had not posted anything since Monday which made this activity even more unusual. I checked the posts that were looked at and decided to read them again myself. They were centered around my work with the Alexander Technique. Within these posts I found what I needed to guide my guitar work from this perspective for the afternoon. I also began an organization of my writings to further inform my future practices.

I had decided during last nights session to focus on particular transitions in Dancin' Free and Beneath Dark Images. Incorporating the AT principles to this practice allowed me to maintain a certain freedom of use and to notice when I was end gaining.  Again and again coming back to giving myself the directions. I also began to have a sense of "allowing my spine to release out of my pelvis," which William Conable spoke of in his workshop.

In all a good day's practice, now if only I could get around to changing my strings.  What transitions are you working on?